The classic rock songs of one generation are mixing with the syncopated hip-hop beats of another. From the rows of parked cars with their open tailgates come the rising chatter of groups of friends and the appetizing scent of their tailgate barbeques. This is UNH Homecoming, and thousands of alumni have come back to their alma mater.
Many are calling 2009 one of the best turnouts in school history. Few people could judge that as well as Brad Aiken '65, '78G. Aiken has missed only two Homecomings—both due to military service—since the early 1960s. For nearly five decades, Aiken has endured cold and wet conditions and has seen the crowds wax and wane. But today as he holds court among his friends, the weather couldn't be kinder and the grass parking lot couldn't hold many more cars.
"The idea of being outside on a fall day at a football game," Aiken says, "is a thing a lot of people absorb initially when they're in school. But then the idea becomes that you come back and see all these familiar faces."
More than 14,800 attended this year's game against Villanova—the biggest crowd in a decade. UNH won, 28-24, with a field goal in the fourth quarter. While the game may be the beacon that brings alumni back, it's the friendships that endow the weekend with meaning.
"It's really fun to go back," says Elaine Messier Walczak '84. "You say, 'I was part of that person's life at one point.' And it's really neat to see what they're doing."
For a university that wants to strengthen connections to and among alumni, there is no better date on the calendar than Homecoming. Kelly Schwindt Calhoun '99, director of alumni programming, says UNH wants to make Homecoming "more than just a football game." This year, the schedule of activities was five pages long and lasted the entire weekend. It included special meals, campus tours, an art exhibit and a play.
In building better Homecomings, the Alumni Association is looking to the rituals of the past. Like the bell in T-Hall. Students used to ring it to celebrate significant events like football victories. But the tradition died away long ago.
So now students are ringing the bell again. To do the honors, Johnny Russo '12 was led into a small room at the top of the T-Hall tower. The room is dominated by a wooden box that protects the inner workings of the campus clock. At 5:30 p.m., Russo—who won this privilege in a raffle—pulled the rope that rings the bell. Down the road, the Homecoming parade began making its way up Main Street as the pealing of the bell reverberated across campus.Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents